ARLINGTON, Texas - The inaugural Southwest Classic didn't exactly start great for the University of Arkansas, but it's all about how you finish.
The Razorbacks rallied from an early 10-0 deficit with 30 unanswered points before halftime and went on to rout Texas A&M 47-19 Saturday night before 71,872 fans at Cowboys Stadium.
Ryan Mallett was 17-of-27 passing for 271 yards and 4 touchdowns and linebacker Jerry Franklin's 85-yard fumble return for a score highlighted an improved effort from the defense.
"That was a good win for us," Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said. "I was very proud of our team. We didn't start out very good. We got down 10-0, but I like the way we responded, mostly the look in their eyes on the sideline and the competitiveness. There wasn't one person who didn't think we could comeback and win."
Arkansas (2-2) stopped a two-game losing streak with the win and dropped Texas A&M (3-1) from the list of unbeatens in the neutral site game in which tickets were evenly split.
"We jumped ahead of them and really had an opportunity to take a significant lead, which we didn't do," Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman said. "Good football teams take the lead and don't relinquish it. We allowed them to get back in the ballgame."
The event - and at least 10-year series that could be extended to 30 - was the idea of former Razorback star and current Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who opened the $1.15 billion stadium earlier this year.
"Wow, huh?" Petrino said. "What a beautiful house. A great house. It's a great experience for our players. We came over here yesterday and everyone's kind of looking around with their mouth open. It's an unbelievable place."
UA defensive end Jake Bequette said Petrino's decision to get the awe factor over with by practicing inside the stadium on Friday was the right one.
"That was a good move by Coach Petrino to come over here yesterday and get a feel for the place because it is really breathtaking," Bequette said. "It's a great facility, but today we showed up, took care of business and got a great win at a great venue."
It was the first meeting between the two former Southwest Conference foes since 1991 and gave the Razorbacks a 39-24-3 lead in the series.
Arkansas' 47 points is the most it has every scored against A&M, it's largest victory margin in the series and the most points scored by the two teams in their history of match-ups.
"I think it (the win) helps a lot," Petrino said. "We were talking about being a team and taking care of each other and playing together and not hurting ourselves. I think we grew up a little bit tonight."
Texas A&M quarterback Jarrod Johnson was under heavy pressure most of the night while going 30-of-58 passing for 345 yards with a pair of scores.
"I think we threw the ball too much," Sherman said. "I should have taken some of that off. I started out thinking we are going to run it. I got away from it a little bit. I should have stayed with it longer, take some of the pressure off him and the offensive line."
Petrino was obviously happy to see that pressure from his defensive line, including defensive end Tenarius Wright, who had two sacks that both forced fumbles.
"I thought that came off the ball real well and did a nice job with their pass rush moves," Petrino said. "He's (Johnson) is a tough guy to tackle. It's a good thing we had good depth and we rotated a bunch of guys in."
"I think the gameplan all week was to get pressure on this kid," Bequette said. "He's a big, strong quarterback who can escape the pocket, but if we could be in his face every snap then it'd be really hard to execute their offense and I think we were able to do that tonight."
Johnson said he would much rather have just sit in the pocket all night instead of running for his life.
"I never want to scramble," Johnson said. "I would prefer to sit in the pocket and throw the ball, but different situations presented themselves tonight. I think I can scramble, but it's not my favorite thing to do."
The Aggies had 458 yards total offense to the Razorbacks 438, which included a season-high 163 rushing yards - 148 which came after halftime.
It was a much better effort than in last weekend's 35-7 loss at No. 3 Alabama - a game that was just 14-7 midway through the third quarter.
"We lost a hard fought game last week, but we came out and practice hard this week," Arkansas sophomore wideout Joe Adams said. "Coach (Petrino) made an emphasis that this was a much-needed win. We all pulled together for this game and won."
Texas A&M racked up 48 yards on its first two plays of the game before having to settle for Randy Bullock's 32-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
It became 10-0 when Johnson avoided a heavy rush and hit Brandal Jackson for a 60-yard touchdown with 6:02 still showing in the opening quarter.
Jackson got behind Franklin for the score, but he would certainly make up for that latter in the half.
"At that point we should have kept it going and blown them out," Texas A&M linebacker Kyle Mangun said. "We should have rolled at that point, but we got away from our focus and they just came back and really gave it to us."
Arkansas had a net of zero yards through its first three possession, but a 67-yard pass connection to Joe Adams, who got about 20 yards after the catch, loosen both the A&M defense and Mallett up.
"It got us going," Petrino said. "We needed something good to happen. I don't know if we had even had a completion up to that point. But it was very well blocked and Joe made a great move."
The Razorbacks took advantage of that three plays later when Broderick Green took a short pass from Mallett and took it the rest of the way for an 8-yard score.
Alex Tejada's PAT got Arkansas within 10-7 with 4:14 left in the first quarter.
The Razorbacks then caught three huge breaks – first when a wide-open Ryan Tannehill dropped what would likely have been a TD pass.
Not only that, but Aggie punter Ken Wood then shanked a 5-yard punt that set up the UA offense at the A&M 38.
When it looked like Arkansas might have to settle for a field goal, a third-down interference penalty gave them new life.
That new life culminated when Mallett's 5-yard TD pass to De'Anthony Curtis, the sophomore's first career score.
Tejada's PAT gave the Razorbacks a 14-10 lead with 13:22 remaining before halftime.
"It took a while to get settled in this game, but I have to give my hat off to the defense today," Mallett said. "They played their butts off tonight and they are what kept us in the game."
Neither team did anything on the next 3 possessions before A&M jumped on Jerell Norton's muffed punt at the Arkansas 12.
The Razorback defense not only kept the Aggies from scoring, but got points on its own.
That happened when Tenarius Wright separated the ball from Johnson and Franklin picked it up and ran 85 yards untouched.
The only one even close to him during the run was teammate Matt Harris.
That game-changing play gave Arkansas a 21-10 lead with 6:20 still showing before halftime.
"It was huge," Petrino said. "We had turned the ball over twice with an interception and we had a fumbled punt, so it gave them great field position. We had a great pass rush and the ball came out and Jerry picked it up and went and scored."
Franklin said it was right time, right place.
"We had great pressure that got to (Johnson) him and they knocked the ball out and I picked it up," Franklin said.
Mallett, who had just thrown an interception caused when A&M linebacker Von Miller hit his arm, was certainly pleased to see Franklin running down the field.
Arkansas actually got a five-yard penalty for a sideline infraction because several of the players and coaches bounced out onto the field after Franklin had passed them.
"I didn't know Franklin was that fast," Mallett said. "That really turned the game around for us after that interception. He made a great play and showed the speed he had also."
Miller, the linebacker who leads the NCAA in sacks, got one early before Arkansas made sure to put two guys on him on obvious passing downs.
"We knew they were going to adjust to what we were doing," Miller said. "There was a lot of pressure for the first plays."
The Razorbacks would get on the board twice more before intermission.
Tejada booted a 38-yard field goal and then Mallett hit Jarius Wright on a 31-yard TD strike with 1:34 left in the half.
Tejada's missed PAT left it 30-10 – an onslaught that the Aggies would not recover from during the contest.
Mallett had already thrown for 193 yards and 3 touchdowns by halftime, rebounding from a 12-of-35 effort at Alabama.
"The first thing he did was practice real well," Petrino said. "He had a great attitude all week in practice. He's a tremendous competitor and it hurts when you lose a game and you feel like you didn't perform well. I was very proud of the way he reacted to that loss in practice all week. That showed up tonight in the game."
Texas A&M did cut it 30-13 early in the third quarter on Bullock's 47-yard field goal, but Arkansas grabbed the momentum right back.
"At haltime, I looked in their eyes," Sherman said. "They wanted to go back out and prove themselves."
Michael Smith accounted for 64 of the 70 yards and his 21-yard TD catch from Mallett and Tejada's PAT made it 38-13 at the 4:28 mark.
Johnson's 3-yard TD pass to Tanneyhill on the first play of the fourth quarter cut it to 37-19, but the two-point conversion pass failed.
Arkansas then closed out the scoring with Tejada's 18-yard field goal with 9:35 left and then Ronnie Wingo's 62-yard TD dash with 5:37 left in the game.
Wingo and fellow freshman tailback Knile Davis covered the 72 yards of that last drive in four plays.
"I think we got worn down a bit," Sherman said. "I think it put our defense on the field too much. And the second quarter offensively wasn't very good and I think we caused our defense to get worn down with the frequency that they were on the field at that point."
Wingo's big run allowed him to finish as the Razorbacks' leading rusher with 86 yards on 4 carries while Green had 30 on 11 totes and Smith 8 rushes for 20 yards.
Adams had 3 catches for 110 yards with Smith had 5 for 65 and Jarius Wright 2 for 36.
"Arkansas has some good athletes," Mangan said. "They had good athletes and their line up front was strong. We missed some assignments and we were just trying to do too much."
Arkansas will get back to SEC action next Saturday with another undefeated team when Auburn (5-0) visits Fayetteville for a 11:30 or so game.
Auburn won on the road at Tennessee 26-16 on Saturday night.
Jerry Franklin races toward the end zone on an 85-yard fumble with teammate Matt Harris and Stephen Barrera in tow.
Joe Adams had 3 catches for 110 yards.
Ryan Mallett threw for 4 TD passes.
Arkansas 47, Texas A&M 19
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